The Day in the life of Tony Cliffe

The blog that's full of discussion, advice, travel and ramblings!

Tag: Holiday

Geneva with Laura

Those of you who had read my last blog My visit to Split, Croatia might be asking the question of how do you go to a conference in Split, Croatia, and end up in Geneva? Good question. To answer it is in part logistics and well any other excuse to go travelling. I’m fortunate as a funded PhD student to get £1500 per year for expenses to use for conferences, travel and anything PhD related. As beautiful as Split is, it’s an awkward place to get to, that also makes it expensive to get to. Flights from my part of the world are few and far between, i.e. once a week! But annoyingly that meant that while I could get to Split the day before the conference, it meant I couldn’t go back until three days afterwards at the cost of £500 return, not to mention how much an extra three days in the apartment may have costed me!

While I could afford that, I knew I had applied for my second international conference in Bergen, Norway in October so if I was accepted, I needed the £300 plus for the registration fee. So I hedged my bets that I’d get accepted and therefore needed to keep the money left of my expenses for the year (they run August to August) for that conference. So I got creative. The flight out to Split was £110 one way. I went on FlightRadar24 and had a look for departures from Split on the Saturday after the conference to see what destinations they flew to and using my extensive avgeekary I know pretty much all of the destinations served from Liverpool and Manchester. So my plan was to find somewhere I could fly to from Split and then after a few days get home again. That’s when I saw Geneva on the departure board. Much like Croatia, Switzerland and specifically Geneva, was on my 12 holidays in 12 months plan but I never got around to it, so it felt like a perfect excuse to go! The flight from Split was £60 and the return to Liverpool £80, bargain! As I book so many hotels every year I’m a genius member on Booking.com, so I get 15% off most hotels, I found a brilliant 4* hotel in Geneva for less than £200, and before I knew it that was my plan post-conference!

Those of you who follow my blogs know that 90% of my travels are solo affairs and I’ve written many times about how much I love that. However, they can get lonely at times, and as much as blogs and pictures try to convey the experiences it’s never really the same, and sometimes you can create special memories by sharing it with other people on the trip. While out on one of our many cycling rides, I told Laura about my plan and that all she needed to do was get her bum on a seat to Geneva and everything else was paid for. Yay! I had a travel buddy and even better that we decided to go hire some bikes to cycle the beautiful Lake Geneva.

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Time to head to Switzerland

Usually, as I waited for the local bus to the airport from Split, I’d be sad to leave such a fantastic place, but the thought of another couple of days away was exciting. I thought Split was hot, but Geneva and central Europe were in the grips of one of the most blistering heatwaves in recent times and so was in the high 30’s and the day we had planned to go cycling it was expected to hit 38c! As much as I loved Split, one thing let it down, and that was the airport. My god, that airport is shambolic. It’s such a shame too! It’s too small to handle the summer traffic, and for 2.5 hours I had to stand in the departure lounge due to a lack of seats, and there was only one tiny booth selling food and drink. I have never been in such a chaotic airport departure lounge. I watched Laura’s flight from Liverpool take off on my app, and before long, I was up in the air myself heading to Geneva.

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Lack of seats meant chaos trying to walk through the tiny terminal

As much as the landing into Split was epic, flying over Mont Blanc and the Alps on approach to Geneva was really awesome! The views on the flight flying over Venice, North Italy and then the Alps certainly made up for the cramped wait in Split. With clear blue skies and a gentle landing, it wasn’t long before I was in the arrivals hall waiting for my bag and I exchanged what leftover Croatian money I had into Swiss Franc which is probably the most Monopoly-ish money I’ve ever had! The great thing about Geneva is their exceptional system of providing free travel passes to visitors to get you from the airport to anywhere in the city (including trains, trams, buses and ferries… all for free!) all you had to do was press a button in the arrivals, and the only stipulation was you had to use it within an hour of getting it.

Laura’s plane had arrived about 45 minutes ahead of mine, so it was a comedy of WhatsApp calls trying to find each other in the arrivals, but we eventually did! For me, it felt like two spies meeting in a neutral location to swap stories, but that’s probably just the author in me! Laura had become one of my best friends in the short time I’d known her and is still one of my favourite humans, so I was really looking forward to exploring this new city with her.

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Meeting up in arrivals!

We navigated the train and ended up in the city where a wall of heat hit me. While Split was hot, there was a constant sea breeze which made it pleasant. In between the heat of the buildings of the city of Geneva, the heat was oppressive, which didn’t help to lug a giant suitcase through the streets. With thanks to Google Maps, we ended up at the hotel, and there was another brilliant perk of Geneva. Any guest staying in a hotel within the city boundaries is given free travel passes for their entire stay to use again on trains, trams, buses and ferries (such a fantastic idea to increase tourism!).

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The chair

After quickly freshening up we headed out to explore this place but not before going on a wild goose chase to find a supermarket! Wow. I mean that was a trek and a half to find this supermarket! After loading me up like a human packhorse, we headed to our closest landmark from the hotel, the UN building and the chair. I’ve visited the other UN building in New York, so it was really cool to see and get pictures with the main UN building! The chair is also iconic, and I didn’t know its three legs is a symbol of a reminder of landmines hence the one leg blown off, kind of neat in a weird way. After plenty of pictures outside the UN, we walked through their botanical gardens, which were sublime! Sitting on the grass felt surreal chilling like we usually do but miles away from home in another country like you do on an average Saturday!

 

 

 

 

Walking along the lake with the views of the city in the distance was so cool and walking through their park (and the customary picture with the WTO building. Geography bucket list tick!) it made us both think what giant city parks should be like. Sefton Park is okay, but it wasn’t a patch on this place. Music, parties, the smoke and smells of numerous BBQs drifted across our path. There was a wedding, there were family picnics, and people were jumping in the lake. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen, the buzz and vibe of this place were already fantastic. You know what too? People were drinking responsibly, cleaning up after themselves and everyone was out enjoying the hot Saturday afternoon sunshine with no agro! If only our British culture weren’t so opposite! I can only imagine the scene in Sefton Park if this was to happen there.

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Lac Leman

After a long walk along the lake and as the sunset over Geneva, we went and got some food (that classic Swiss dish of McDonald’s) and headed back to the room for the night. The next day was really what we’d come for, a cycle around Lake Geneva!

For £20 you could hire road bikes for the day and what a bargain that was! I had been lugging my cycling gear around with me since Split, so it felt really good to finally use it! I’ve only ever cycled abroad once, and that was around Valencia, and we all know how badly that ended with a flat tire and a 45c 10-mile walk back to the city centre! I hoped that this journey would be a little less troublesome. Switzerland is also known as a fantastic place to cycle, and I was so excited to clip in and head out on the open road for our less than usual Sunday ride! By the time we arrived in Geneva, it had become our thing to spend Sundays together cycling, chilling, cooking food, so it felt like a typical Sunday for us, except here we were in Geneva!

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Ready for our epic cycle!

The bikes we hired were fantastic road bikes “we’ve just got them in” in a thick French accent the guy tells us, cool. What wasn’t so cool was nearly having an argument with the arsey French guy about SPD vs Look cleats. While I respect that he owns the bike shop, he really ought to have known the difference, and while I would love to say his arrogant attitude was because English wasn’t his second language, I just think he was typically French!

My biggest concern cycling here was about being on the wrong side of the road but that never actually became a problem (except at roundabouts where you had to really use your brain). After heading out of the city (thankfully the roads early on a Sunday morning were lovely and quiet) we started to steadily climb out of the city, passing through these stunning Swiss villages. Glass free smooth roads paved our way as we cycled past vineyards, farms and cute houses. Before long, we reached the brow of a steady hill, and we both just had to stop and take in the scene in front of us. To our right the Lake had appeared below us, fields of giant sunflowers lead down to the lake, the morning sun shimmering off the blue water and right there, across the lake was the tall Alps rising in the morning mist to meet the sun. Just a stunning view that I will remember for a very long time.

 

 

 

 

We pushed on North following the Lake until we came across a small town called Rolle’ and we decided to stop for a coffee. We found this quaint little waterfront cafe, lined by manicured flowers with a view of the Lake and Alps. We parked our bikes up and using GCSE French and with the help of Google Translate managed to order two black coffees. Those of you who know us both will know how much we love coffee and I think I’m safe in saying that not only was that the most scenic coffee I have ever had, I feel like we both could have spent all day drinking coffee and looking out at the view. We cycled around a little castle and just admired the view. It was a perfect morning. This village was perfect!

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What struck me the most about cycling here was how effortless it was here. Cars gave you room, the pavements were incredibly smooth, it was a dream. Since that trip cycling in the UK is far harder and a lot more painful! We carried on as we tried to reach halfway around the lake until the dreaded fear of the hired bike became a reality. You read horror stories of bikes snapping in half or cassettes exploding on plenty of cycling abroad blog sites. By now it was in the mid 30’s and well into the afternoon, the heat once you stopped was crazy! While the mechanical on Laura’s bike wasn’t as dramatic as some of the stories of hire bikes, it was no less annoying. As they were new bikes, they hadn’t adjusted the limit screws or indexed the gears correctly. So anytime she tried to put any power down up a hill the gears would jump and skip, not only is that annoying but it can be pretty dangerous! The most annoying thing as we decided that it was better to call it quits and cycle the just under 30 miles back in one gear, was that it was a simple fix if you had the right tools. All it needed was a small screwdriver. I’ve adjusted my gears and indexed them many times on my own bike, so it was frustrating to be defeated by a simple mechanical.

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Zwift like Swiss villages we passed on our cycle

But, It’s cycling abroad, while I stayed in one gear to sympathise, at least this time I wasn’t walking back! Maybe next time I go cycling 3rd-time lucky mechanicals will stay away. On our trip back, it was no less beautiful, but I did become concerned very quickly about the heat. By now, it was 38c, and we had no water left at all. I was under no doubt that the sweat had probably washed away any of my sunblock. It’s a Sunday and nowhere is open and no water fountains to be seen. Laura suggested that we should stop at a Café or restaurant and just ask them to fill them up with water. Me being me was like they’ll never do that! Turns out as usual with her, I was wrong, and she was right. If it weren’t for her, I’d have been that pigheaded person who would have died on the bike through dehydration because I didn’t want to ask for water in French!

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LakeGeneva by bike

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Other than the mechanical, we arrived back after 50+ miles and 2400 feet of climbing! An epic ride, even more so when factoring in nearly 40c heat! It felt so good to get a shower after that’s for sure. As tired as we were, there is a euphoria of completing an epic ride like that and no doubt memories we’ll take away from it for a long time. For me, I feel it will take an exceptional ride to top that!

 

 

 

 

We didn’t stop there though, we got changed, got some food, then headed out for a sunset view around the town and the see the Jet ‘Eau at sunset. By the next morning, we checked out and headed back around the city, exploring and picking up some souvenirs for friends and family. By late afternoon we were flying back to Liverpool, and that brought a close to a fantastic few days away and for me, a brilliant just under 2 weeks away. Geneva is a city that I highly recommend you visit. Not only is it beautiful, clean, friendly and impressive, it also has a vibe about it that isn’t touristy. By that I mean, Prague last year with Laura and Katie was a fantastic and beautiful city, but you knew it was a tourist destination. Geneva, however, just felt like an ordinary city with people going about their daily lives and was very Swiss! If you get the chance to hire a bike head out to Rolle and enjoy a coffee with stunning vistas it will be worth it I assure you! Due to work commitments and moving different places in the country that was to be our last weekend together for a very long time, so it was sad to part ways at the bus stop at LJLA but what a tremendous mini-break away with one of my favourite people!

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North Atlantic Adventure: St. John’s, Canada Part Two

Part One: North Atlantic Adventure: St. John’s, Canada Part One

In this adventure i explore St. John’s and the surrounding areas. I visit the most Easterly edge of North America, i climb a windy mountain, eat fish and chips and hide from the cold in a museum!

After a very comfortable night’s sleep and being completely unaware of the 80+ mph winds that battered this part of the world overnight I woke up, had my shower, and headed down to breakfast. The breakfast was served in the bar area of the hotel that was adorned with a giant picture of Mick Jagger while easy country rock drifted across the empty tables. I was greeted at the entrance by Lindsay, a really lovely and chipper server who looked after me for the following three days. Always nice to have breakfast with a smile and one day just sat down to have a chat as it was quiet!

After bacon, eggs, sausages and blueberry jam (yes together they taste good!) I grabbed my things and headed outside to await my tour. I booked onto it when I arrived on the Island for $80 for a half day trip, the reviews looked good and they were very accommodating letting me join the already pre-booked tour at short notice! The hurricane that had passed through had left not a cloud in the sky but a brisk wind. Stepping outside to wait for my 9 a.m. pick up the hat and gloves were very much needed at 2 degrees! A man sat down next to me and started smoking before taking a phone call while I watched the odd car in the distance. This part of the world for a city at 9 a.m. was pretty quiet! Not before long McCarthy’s tour bus arrived, a fancy looking mini bus to where the driver, John, got out and gave me a huge firm handshake and a welcome on board! He reminded me of your typical North American Dad! He was from the word go a legend and throughout the tour his passion for this part of the world, his jokes, his humour and his honesty was something that made this one of the best tours I had ever gone on. He introduced me to the rest of the tour who were all here as part of a conference. They’d all come up from Toronto and they all made me feel very welcome to. He let me sit upfront with him. As I buckle myself up he goes “Holy Mackerel where you just sitting next to Anthony Bourdain!?” I give him a quizzical look as I didn’t know who that was “Ah you guys my wife will go nuts! She loves him. I’m going to go ask him for a picture I’ll be right back”. And away he went, inside the hotel to get a picture with Anthony Bourdain. I ask the rest of the tour who he was to which they tell me he’s a very famous Chef, especially in this part of the world. Sadly since writing this blog I know he died recently which is a shame!

He came back and sent his wife a picture and that was a running joke for the rest of the tour! Our first stop after a beautiful scenic and informative drive was to Cape Spear. The most Easterly edge of the North American Continent. To mark the location is a large lighthouse that warns seafarers of land ahead after many miles of open harsh Atlantic waters. I love anything like this and I loved walking around the area, especially when it was so quiet at this time of the morning. It felt a lot like Cornwall! I like visiting the far edges of places I always think it’s pretty cool!

After half an hour we headed around the coast to a little fishing village called Petty Harbour. This was your typical postcard Newfie village and it was impossible not to see why some people call this rugged part of the world their home. Nestled up on the rising cliffs where the brightly coloured houses that are so famous in these parts, their colours a juxtaposition to the dark waters of the bay. Seagulls called and fishermen shouted as they pulled in their days catch. In summertime this harbour is a good place to watch Whales. Maybe I’ll come back this way one day!

Petty Harbour

Petty Harbour was a beautiful village

We drove back into the city and up Signal hill, the location of the first wireless message across the Atlantic, paving the way for communication as we know it today. Despite this historical significance, it’s actually called Signal Hill due to its elevated mountain position, the harbour could be forewarned of approaching enemy ships into the harbour by the signalman, hence the name Signal Hill. From this high up you could see out across the Atlantic for miles! I had a walk around the lookout tower and the views across the city and then the deep harbour nestled between the two giant mountains. I noticed one or two hikers and after talking to John he explained that instead of driving up there is a hike that winds its way from the harbour all the way up to the summit that some people like to do. That was my afternoon sorted then! As always I always find the highest thing in a city to climb, this is perfect for it!

Our final stop was a small village which had the peculiar name of Quidi Vidi! Again, another body of water nestled between two giant cliffs. It seemed like this was the norm here to have quaint pretty little fishing villages wherever they could! On the way back to the city he explained that the Duke of Duchess pub in town did the best fish and chips in the world. A bold claim.

Quidi Vidi

Quidi Vidi

After I got back to my hotel and put my hiking gear on I headed out to test this claim out! Even though it was Saturday afternoon the city was still fairly quiet but lovely as the sun beat down despite the wind. The pub was nestled up a side street and when I got to the outside it certainly didn’t look like an establishment that would serve the best fish in the world. Upon entering it reminded me of a classic old English pub with beamed ceilings and dull light. Liverpool FC were playing Newcastle United (my two favourite teams!) on a TV screen so I decided to plonk myself down and order my drink and fish and chips.

Well, it didn’t look like the best fish and chips in the world but my word it was AWESOME! Kudos to John for the tip. The fish is caught every morning and it showed. Excellent price and food. I watched Liverpool win and then suitably stuffed headed the mile along the harbour to the foot of the climb. I stopped into TImmies again (turned into a true Canadian now) and made my way to the start of the hike. The hike was stunning if not a little scary at times! They had built walk ways and bridges but some parts of the hike you had to shimmy along tiny ledges and hold on for dear life!

The views as you got higher were amazing and I find nothing better than being in quiet alone up a mountain. It gives me so much energy and relaxation, I just love being outdoors and this mountain had it all. I took my time up it, taking pictures and enjoying the views and tried my best to not get blown off the cliff in the wind! After the final steep climb to the summit I arrived to stunning views.

Signal Hill

Signal Hill

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I found a little alcove and just sat for just over an hour watching the ships head out into the setting sun of the North Atlantic. The temperature had dropped as the sun began to set and the wind blew but the sky was so clear and so pure that I didn’t want to leave!

Heading down the mountain was a lot easier going up and helpfully giant red chairs where placed along the route to celebrate the birthday of Canada. I can think of far worse places to rest that’s for sure!

I headed back down the mountain and to my hotel just after the sun had set, a spectacular day. A day I enjoyed from start to finish and was one of my ‘perfect days’. I just loved everything about it!

The next morning the clear blue skies had given way to dark grey clouds and a wind chill of -5 degrees. The wind was biting, the wind that cuts right down into the bone. Today was most definitely an indoors day if possible. After a great breakfast again and with me wrapped up I went to go get my coffee. I spotted a little board walk on my way home last night and found it again this morning. I drank my coffee to warm me up as a large cruise ship entered the harbour.

I watched this beast manoeuvre itself before I headed back up the mountain again. I walked through the little walk ways I didn’t do the day before and I even headed into the Geoscience museum which as a geographer I found to be amazing! I spent two hours in there before venturing back out into the freezing cold to get some more pictures and my last look at this oddly captivating city.

St. John's in the Autumn

Autumn colours of St. John’s

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Geocentre

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I walked for 12 miles that day! I ended up in a place called “the rooms” which was an excellent museum of this part of the world. It was also an art gallery and a theatre all set into this very modern tall glass building. Completely at odds to the rest of the city. I decided to pop in to get warm and for only a few dollars it was well worth it and I highly recommend a visit.

By time I left it was mid-afternoon and the temperature really had that winter bite to it. It’s one of those days that feels like winter and gives you that special winter feeling! On my way back to my hotel I chose a nice looking bar in George Street and had a fantastic burger and fries to refuel after a long day walking in the cold.I retired to my bed early after one of the longest and hottest showers I’ve ever had!

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Tomorrow I fly out to much warmer weather, 25c in fact as I head to Charlottetown via Halifax. Tomorrow was to be a long day of travelling as I headed a few hundred miles south to an intriguing Island that has always been on my bucket list. I was super excited but I was also sad to leave this part of the world. St. John’s and Newfoundland touched me in a way I didn’t think it would. I had done a complete 180 since arriving. Those first few hours I was unsure of the place, its rugged and quietness, its weather and scenery I didn’t know what to think. As the days went on and the time I spent here I fell in love with its unique beauty, its harshness, its industrial but quirky feel, its bright coloured buildings and its stunning landscapes. I didn’t want to go. Above all else the people I had met in this place from John the tour guide to Lindsay the babe of a waitress to the many people who said hello in the street to the cashiers in the convenience stores who welcomed me to their town and asked about life in the UK. Everyone was super friendly. People in this part of the world clearly look out for one another, despite it being a city. They welcomed me with open arms and the well-known hospitality of Newfoundlanders was so evident to me.

Thank you St. John’s for a unique and interesting experience, a place I am never likely to forget in a hurry. That town nestled in that stubborn rock in the harsh North Atlantic Ocean that took a bit of my heart!

Next blog: If St. John’s took a bit of my heart, Charlottetown took the whole thing!

To catch up on the adventure so far:

Iceland:

North Atlantic Adventure: Iceland – Part One

North Atlantic Adventure: Iceland – Part Two

Halifax:

North Atlantic Adventure: Halifax, Canada

 

North Atlantic Adventure: Halifax, Canada

I Travel from Iceland to the Maritime city of Halifax, Nova Scotia to explore this rich  historic naval city and the wonders of the Nova Scotia coast to Peggy’s Cove.

The peace and quiet of the Icelandic countryside felt a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of Keflavik airport, in fact I’d go as far as saying organised chaos. Keflavik was never designed for this many passengers, as far as major international airports go…this is very much on the smaller size. Tourism has boomed in Iceland in recent years (it’s hard to see why it took so long!) and due to the connecting flights with Icelandair, Keflavik has swollen with passenger numbers. Throughout the day there is a constant pulse of passengers. From about 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. all of Icelandair and WoWair flights arrive across the Atlantic from North America flooding the terminal with thousands of passengers in those short hours. Those planes then carry on to Europe and then return before 3pm swelling the terminal again before leaving back across the Atlantic to North America between 4 and 6pm. It’s almost like a lung expanding and contracting as the day goes on. The issue is plain to see, while security was quick to go through well relatively. Travelling with all your camera equipment is a bloody hassle having to unpack it and then repack it after the x-ray machines, it never goes back in the way you packed it beforehand. What the issue is, is a distinct lack of seats. My flight was one of the very last to leave Iceland that day to head across the Atlantic to Halifax, Canada. That meant that by time I got to the departure lounge everyone else was waiting for their flights to North America which were about to board. Despite the cacophony of sound it was still exciting. Even if I did have to walk around for ages to find a seat.

Funky Icelandic Departure Lounge

Funky Icelandic Departure Lounge

You can’t go to your gate in Keflavik until it is called and if your flight is to the UK or North America which are both outside the Schengen free movement agreement you have to go through to the D-Gates. To get there you have to leave the Schengen area and go through passport control. I found myself a seat in what is a pretty nice terminal building despite how busy it is. I bought two sandwiches, some water and some Haribo gummy bears remember you get no food on this flight and its 4 and a bit hours long. After a wait my gate appeared and I headed quickly through passport control and I’m grateful to still be a part of the EU which allows me to use my chipped passport to go through the self-service control points. The queue for the non EU passport control was so big that I’m thankful that I’m getting my Irish Passport to travel on as to keep that privilege of quick access to EU countries. I watched a flight board from my gate and before long it was my turn, a quick bus ride to the plane, one last look at Iceland before I boarded my 757 to Halifax.

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Next stop Canada!

I couldn’t wait to arrive in Canada again. The Cliffe family have a lot of history with Canada and my bike is adorned with the Canadian flag next to my name. I fell in love with this country a long time ago and I’ve visited many places in Canada, all except the Maritimes which I was to tick off on this trip. Last year’s trip to Toronto and then Edmonton was such a great trip to go back to Canada after far too many years away. Canada and the family ties are really what my love for Canada is all about. Halifax, my first stop was fitting as during WW2 as Great Uncle Wal an engineer in the Merchant Navy would crisscross the Atlantic and in Montreal is where he met his wife. It’s really down to them two that the Cliffe family have both a UK and a Canadian split. Barb and Betsy, their daughters always kept in contact with my Dad and kept that bond across the pond close. As Barb has had kids and obviously my mum and dad had me and my sister I feel it’s great that the new generation keep as close a bond as possible. It felt like meeting them all again for the first time and in some cases it really was the first time I’d met Becky and Sarah and Bob and Robin when I went to Toronto last year. They could not have made their English cousin feel any more welcome! I was super excited to see them all at the end of the trip in Toronto again! They’re all awesome! I also love Canada, I love the way of life, the people and the scenery. It’s no secret. Part of this trip was to really look at could I move here and live here once the PhD is done. Halifax is a city that has a close tie to Liverpool and the UK and it seemed like a great first port of call for my adventure of the Maritimes!

My take-off from Iceland to Halifax

On long haul you never quite know who you’re going to be sat next to, of course I always book the window seat! It always pays to talk to your fellow neighbours on flights, last time flying back from Canada doing just that got me an upgrade to first class! I was fortunate enough to have two older ladies sitting next to me who I had a nice chat with across the Atlantic about their home city of Halifax which broke up the journey for a bit.

Taking off and waving goodbye to Iceland I headed out across the Atlantic, next stop Canada! I watched Death at a Funeral (the British original not the awful American remake) that brought back some memories of when I first watched that film! That life as a 17 year old seemed so long ago! I glanced away from the movie to see that we were flying over Greenland. Simply stunning place and I’m jealous my supervisor does research on the glaciers there, I keep dropping hints for me to take my UAV on research with him there but he’s yet to take my hints! Using the Wi-fi I live streamed our crossing over Greenland where icepacks gave way to Glaciers that fed into the sea. I thought it was pretty neat that I could live stream such an epic view! Again hurray for inflight Wi-Fi.

Greenland Ice

Greenland from 38,000 feet

Before long the sun had caught up to us and after filling in the Customs Declaration landing card for Canada I took photographs of yet another truly stunning sunset that I would take on this trip. Everyone knows Sunrise and particularly Sunset are my favourite times of day. Specifically the civil twilight phase when it’s not quite dark but not quite light and the colours are so intense. Being so high up that moment lasts far longer than down on Earth and I savoured the view as my sleeping playlist played on my headphones. Perfect.

Evolution of a sunset from FL380

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After an hour in darkness I had arrived in Halifax, it felt so good to be back in Canada again! Icelandair were flawless yet again. The dreaded Jetlag did start to kick in but that was more about tiredness. After only a few hours’ sleep the night before chasing the Northern Lights and now being awake for 19 hours with still 2 hours to go before I would get to my hotel, I was starting to feel pretty tired. Going through boarder control was easy. The guy asked a few questions, saw that I was in Canada last year visiting family, he welcomed me back and with that stamp I was officially back in Canada again! Wahoo! I waited 45 minutes for my bag which was annoying as it meant I missed my pre-booked bus to the hotel. Halifax airport is a 45 minute drive away from the city itself so with this being 10pm at night in Canada the only way is via a taxi or a cheaper pre-booked bus. As I always plan for delays I had booked the last bus out at 11pm just in case there was a delay.

While waiting for said bus along with a few passengers the man at the ticket office comes out and asks “Does anybody speak French?” Odd question and I didn’t raise my hand. Whatever his issue was I doubt my C in GCSE French was going to be much good. I can count to 10, order a Cheese and Ham baguette and tell them about my weekends going to the bibliothèque but I don’t think that would help much. A woman however bravely said “I do…a little but I mean a little”. The guy produces an old French woman almost out of nowhere, not sure if he could summon her from thin air but she appeared and starts rattling off French and this poor Canadian good Samaritan was trying her best to understand. The older woman was getting irate with this poor girl only understanding parts of it “I think her flight is tomorrow and…something about her daughter…I think!”

That’s it. I couldn’t sit by and let three people struggle nor could my tired brain bare the sound of constant French. This old woman obviously had an issue and not a word of English in her understanding so I thought I would help out, although I kept my poor French to myself. “Sorry to interrupt, I couldn’t help but overhear…I have a translation app, it’s not word for word but it’ll help” I offer to the three of them. They agree and with Google Translation app working pretty well…well the odd word threw me “My daughter is with a chicken”. Maybe she was with a chicken I don’t know but google translated it as such. The bottom of the story was her flight was delayed so she missed her connection to the French Island of Saint-Pierre to visit her daughter and the next flight was tomorrow morning so she needed a hotel to stay in but all the airport hotels were full. The Canadian lady and myself searched online to find suitable and relatively cheap hotels. We left some numbers with the ticket guy as before long we had to board the bus. The Canadian lady stayed behind a little longer to use her broken French to make sure she knew what she had to do. While driving through the dead of night the Canadian lady phones her partner about the events “You’ll never believe what’s just happened. I haven’t used French for ages and I had to use it to help some old woman. Me and some nice British guy helped her”. I’m not sure if she knew I was on the bus or not but being described as a nice British guy is a nice way to start your trip in Canada. The bus dropped her off at the main train station after a 45 minute motorway trip, she catches my eye and thanks me again for helping out. “Not a problem my dear” I reply. “Thanks again, I love your accent”. I wouldn’t get tired of women saying that to me over here on this trip!

I was the last one on the minibus and I finally arrived at my hotel at 12 a.m. and I had been awake for 23 hours. I was shattered. The check-in was quick, the hotel and room was huge, I got a shower and then it was straight to bed. What a way to start a new location. The hotel in question was the 4 star Hampton Inn by Hilton in Halifax Downtown and cost me £232 for two nights.

By time morning came I was already up at 6.30 a.m. with my body still 4 hours ahead on Icelandic time. After a shower I went down for breakfast, packed my gear and off I went to explore the city of Halifax on foot. I only had a day here so I had planned to walk around the city in the morning and then I had booked to go on a tour to Peggy’s cove, the most photographed lighthouse in the world in the afternoon. The air was cool and crisp but at least it was sunny. I took a walk down to the waterfront which fun fact for you is the second largest ice-free harbour in the world, only Sydney is larger.

I was tired and needed coffee so headed to Tim Hortons Canada’s favourite coffee house. In my last blog I wrote about the whole drip/filter vs Espresso. Don’t get me wrong it’s nice but it’s not a patch on European coffee. I bought myself a cup of Dark roast which is a new blend by Tim Hortons which is their strongest blend and tries to somewhat emulate an espresso. Nowhere near but it was good enough and I loved the cups!

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Good old Tims with some cute 150th birthday cups!

I walked along the waterfront where it was peaceful and quiet, I watched a warship head out, a cruise ship arrive, I sat on a hammock and finished my coffee while the hum of traffic and the city skyscrapers loomed behind me. Again and not for the first time on this trip the city had a lovely vibe about it. Even walking through the concrete canyon of downtown Halifax felt laid back and chilled, despite its very steep hills at times. As usual I found myself walking up the highest point of the city Citadel hill to which Fort George stood. With this being Canada’s 150th birthday pretty much all of these attractions were free. I walked inside and wow what a place for free! From old guards, to one of the best military museums I have ever had the pleasure to walk through including a live cannon salute. One thing I had noticed is British Union flags all over the place along with the Scottish flag and a lot of people walking around in kilts. Halifax has such a close tie to Scotland (it sits within the province of Nova Scotia which translates to New Scotland) and the UK and actually a very strong link to Liverpool. This part of the world was the first for UK and Irish settlers to colonise and that history it seems lives strong in this part of the world. It didn’t feel like Canada at all, it felt like an extended part of the UK. It was lovely!

After walking around there and enjoying the views, I headed back into the city for my tour to Peggy’s cove. It was a five hour tour for what worked out as about £25. Bargain. I got on a giant Greyhound style bus and our tour guide was a very funny and full of puns old guy who loved his job. While boarding the bus he asked everyone’s name and where they came from. “Hi, Tony and Liverpool, England”….”Ah you know John then?” … “As in the Beatle who’s been dead for years? Yeah really well…good mates”. He laughed and so did the others behind me “Oh you Brits and your wit” he remarks with a laugh. I wasn’t trying to be witty I was being sarcastic as I was fed up of people asking if I knew the Beatles personally or the Queen! The drive out of the city for 50 minutes to Peggy’s cove was truly stunning and it did make me wish I could hire a car to explore more of it. There are so many lakes and rivers and forests in this part of the world, I’m sure he said there are 2000 fresh water lakes here alone! Cities are great but to me it’s always about the countryside and the wilderness. I passed so many lakes and tiny fishing ports that would have been so good to explore.

We arrived at Peggy’s cove. Just stunning. A typical Nova Scotia village. I was in love. I walked along the sea rocks, snapped away at the Lighthouse (I think going early morning would be best if you want to visit it without the hordes of tourists though) and I just sat, listening to the waves crash on the rocks by my feet, the blue waters meeting the blue sky. Amazing place to visit and I can see why this location is so highly photographed. You really should go!

Peggy's Cove Nova Scotia

Peggy’s Cove

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Peggy's Cove Lighthouse

Most photographed lighthouse in the world! My one to add to the collection of images!

The 50 minute drive back went a different way and was full of again, jaw-dropping scenery and full of funny stories and information from our tour guide. By time I got back to Halifax it was close to 4 p.m. There are a lot of Irish bars and pubs and on TripAdvisor this was the best in town so I popped in for a Bushmills Whiskey (my second favourite Irish dram after Tulamore) and tried their Fish and Chips. Seafood is huge on this coast and I thought I’d try Fish and Chips in every location to see who wins the battle of the best one. Even their best was not a patch on good old British chip shop Fish and Chips but this one wasn’t bad. It came second on my top 3 list this trip!

I walked back up the hill to watch the sunset, walked another 4 miles around the city at night before calling it quits to come back to my hotel just before 8pm. I was short on sleep, I had walked 13 miles around the city and the delights of Peggy’s cove so before I knew it I was out like a light. Tomorrow I would catch a 2hr 30 minute flight up to the frozen north of St. John’s for three nights.

End Notes:

I would have liked in hindsight to stay an extra day in Halifax. Halifax is a wonderful city and while it’s small it has a rich history, especially a maritime one. There were so many museums I would have loved to have visited, especially the Pier 11 immigration one and the transport musuem but just didn’t have the time. Halifax waterfront is one of the best waterfronts I have ever seen in a city and that’s coming from someone who lives in Liverpool! They have really developed this amazing board walk around the waterfront and the trail is superb. I think Liverpool could certainly take a leaf out of their books! The city itself however is pretty generic high rise concrete canyon North American city. The city itself certainly lacked the quirky charms of my next two locations St. John’s and Charlottetown but it was nice to see a lot of brickwork highrise rather than the steal ones. What it lacked in character certainly made up for in its surroundings. A drive in this place outside of the city is breath taking and that drive and walk around Peggy’s cove is an absolute bucket list must! Stunning scenery and every picture is postcard or magazine worthy. I would definitely hire a car and explore around this place for an extra day or two if I had the time, however the tour for £25 was very good value for money! Peggy’s Cove is as beautiful in real life as it looks in pictures and I would love to get a sunset or a sunrise picture there.

I was glad I decided to make this my first stop back in Canada and my tour of the Atlantic coast. I had fully enjoyed my day in this city and I was super excited to head north to St. John’s, a place I’d wanted to visit for ages!

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Prague Trip Report: Day 1 – Arrivals day

I wake up with that familiar feeling before a new adventure, a feeling I’ve grown accustomed to this year. It’s that feeling of excitement and anticipation that comes with travelling. Luckily, for the first and only time this year, that my flight out to Prague was at 4pm in the afternoon rather than the usual crack of dawn starts. That allowed me the beauty of feeling that pre travel feeling for a bit longer. Usually that feeling fades by time I get into the shower and tiredness from a 3 or 4 a.m start replaces it!

One of the great things about an afternoon flight is the luxury of leaving the packing until the morning. It’s usually the last thing I do before I go to bed. For someone who plans a lot of things in life, you would think I’d be super organised with packing but no…definitely not me! More last minute the better, it’s part of the fun of travelling! I guess I have it easy as a guy anyway, especially travelling to a central European country in the height of summer. All I need is enough boxers and socks to cover me for the five days away, five different t-shirts, two shorts (with a preference for jean shorts as they have more pickpocket proof pockets, gotta’ keep that in mind travelling!), one smart shirt for the evening meals and I always wear jeans and a jumper for travelling in. Sorted. As a guy at least I don’t have to worry about strappy or long tops or different types or shoes etc to wear, unlike my two travel companions for this trip! All of that means my packing which I’ve got down to a fine art by now, took me less than ten minutes. I could get five days’ worth of stuff, toiletries and camera gear all in my trusty expedition day bag. Usually if I had a case with me I’d take more, especially my walking shoes. I elected to take the gamble and leave them at home. Last time I left my walking boots at home for a city break I came back with Plantar Fasciitis in my foot from walking so much in less than ideal shoes. My walking boots are size 11, they’re massive and they’re heavy. Great for the stuff I do but not so great for hot city walking and plus they were still covered in sand and sea water from my trip to Crosby with Katie, so they would probably begin to smell after a few days of heavy use in Prague! Both Laura and Katie certainly don’t deserve to be subjected to that!!

I bought myself a pair of Sketcher walking trainers. I know, I know, I can hear you groan at me for buying sketchers. However, for the price, lightness and comfort of them they proved a great alternative to my walking boots. Despite sleeping in and watching TV, the morning dragged on for what seemed like forever. Even getting my DNA results back didn’t pass the time as much as I hoped (disappointingly 98.9% British and Irish!). Time always drags for travelling, I think time does actually slow down as soon as you’re about to leave somewhere.

Finally 12.30 arrived on the clock and we pulled out of the drive way to head over to Katie’s house to pick her and Laura up to go to the airport. My Dad very kindly offered to take us to the airport (and that’s why he’s just the best Dad ever!) saving us a taxi or at least a train and bus ride. I was really excited at this point as we headed towards South Liverpool. I honestly couldn’t wait to get away with both of two people that I really appreciate in my life and just absolutely love spending time with. Every day is a laugh and I had a feeling that this trip was going to be really special and above all a really fun trip! As we got closer to the house I gazed out of the window at the endless grey clouds and couldn’t wait to go to Prague were sun was forecast for five days with a bit of heat thrown in too!

After picking both of them up and admiring Laura’s excellent parking skills, under 20 minutes later we said goodbyes to my Dad and we were walking across into the terminal. I’ve mentioned it before in my travel blogs how that first step into an airport still gives me that buzz. There is an energy about the place that’s always fascinated me even as a kid. A sense of adventure awaits amidst the chatter and sound of wheeled cases. Despite having checked my bag a billion times and knowing I have absolutely nothing out of the ordinary on me, I still get really nervous and on edge going through security. Every single aspect of flying I am totally relaxed with…except this part. As soon as I am through I can relax and know the holiday has started, until then I just can’t. It makes no sense and I agree it’s illogical and weird! Maybe as Katie said it’s just because I’m Scouse. She has a point! I think it’s in the blood like a survival skill to be naturally cautious around police and security personnel haha! I do have a valid reason to be sceptical travelling through Liverpool airport though. We have a long and at least relatively recent, turbulent history together. For a time I felt like I was public enemy number one due to my Undergraduate dissertation research findings which cost them quite a bit of money back in the day. Ooops! That much that I actively avoided travelling from there for two years until management moved on. Three times I’ve flown out of there this year and three times the metal detectors haven’t gone off but I’ve got a thorough pat down anyway. Now I’m not saying there is a link but three times I’m starting to question the “random search” algorithm! This patdown was particularly intimate. I mean holy shit, he really went to town on those legs and up around the crotch area. Which was of course to great amusement to both of them two! Looks like I took one for the team in the search area as both of them breezed through security without any issues at all! I guess one thing we found out, if you’re a girl and you’re travelling with straighteners don’t take my advice and take them out because they can be left in your bag. So I guess I learnt something new and shock horror, I was wrong for once!

Now that we were though security I could relax and look forward to the holiday. After coffees for them and tea for me to wash down the pain of paying close to £8 for a meal deal (WHSmith in airports are nothing but daylight robbery!) we headed for our gate. Me and Laura had priority boarding and I did feel guilty having to leave Katie to stand in the long ass queue by herself and even more so when she was outside of the first 90 and had to check her bag in. Luckily there is no charge for that in Liverpool, unlike the hassle on the return leg with bags! Argh! Plus don’t get me started on the utter waste that priority boarding is, I really should have learnt my lesson from Berlin!

I knew we’d have a flight delay as my FlightRadar app told me so and the distinct lack of our aircraft outside the window only seeked to confirm it. I knew we were going to be standing for ages. Just under 40 minutes we were standing up for until we eventually boarded the plane. I’ve mentioned it before how I’m really not a fan of the interior of Ryanair aircraft. The sea of plastic yellow and dark blue actually makes me feel nauseous. I still question how the interior design team ever signed off on that scheme and thought it looked good. Add to that the plastic headrest and the fact the plane was one of the oldest in the fleet at 12 years old. My tray table moved more laterally than it did vertically when stowed! Welcome to RyanScare.

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Our Flying 12 year old Tubaware box.

I had the window seat, I learnt my lesson from my trip to Amsterdam with Emma earlier in the year that you should never say “I’ll play you for it” because you’ll lose. Once bitten, twice shy. So that window seat was staying mine! Laura had the middle seat and Katie the aisle. After a pre-departure selfie which would be the first of very many on this trip, we were strapped in, doors shut and on our way for our much needed holiday!

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Pre flight selfie!

Or well we thought…

We were held at the holding point just before the runway for a good five minutes. Usually that’s due to waiting for a plane to land. After five minutes we taxied onto the runway but I noted it as odd that a plane hadn’t landed. I tried to think in my head what that delay was for. I reasoned that it was probably a slot issue, especially as we were already late. I explain to Laura what would be happening next, how the pilots would throttle those CFM engines to 25% wait for them to stabilize before going to full thrust and then leaving the ground at 140-160 mph. Sure enough those engines got to 25% and stayed at 25%. In my head I was like “Come on guys. Thrust!” Suddenly the engines went to idle and the brakes were applied and we taxied off the runway. Fuck I thought. Big problem.

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Squawk 7700

As this wasn’t a based aircraft if there was a technical fault there was no way we were going to be leaving today. I guess that five minute delay was them trying to rectify a fault which must have been unsuccessful. As we taxied back to stand a fire engine pulled up next to the aircraft, I really had a sinking bad feeling about it. An issue serious enough to abort a take-off is usually going to be a lengthy one to fix. However as soon as we pulled onto stand the Captain made an announcement that there was a medical emergency on-board. Gutted for them but relieved that it wasn’t a fault with the aircraft! Of all my years flying and with hundreds of flights that was my first ever RTO! Thank god it wasn’t just before V1 or after departure. It felt like a late call but the crew made the right decision. As the old aviation saying goes “it’s better to be on the ground wishing you were up there, than be up there wishing you were on the ground”. It turns out a woman was ill and was complaining of chest pains. It took a while for the Fire service who are trained in first aid to attend to her before she was offloaded with her partner. I really did feel sorry for them, especially as her Husband apologised to us all and went “we were really looking forward to this trip”. His apology felt misplaced among the few passengers who offered up a comforting awww. It’s not really her fault and I guess him saying that probably didn’t make her feel much better! I hope they eventually got to go away and that she makes a full recovery.

After a delay we taxied onto the runway for our second attempted take off. This time it was successful and we were finally on our way to Prague! Nothing like a bit of drama to kick off a holiday right? We were in the air for less than a minute before the tears of laughter started. In my attempt to explain the principles of air particles and lift on the wing surface I accidently used a hand gesture that’s much more appropriate for the bedroom than an aircraft full of passengers. I didn’t actually realise what I was doing by simulating the perpendicular force of lift up against a wing surface with two fingers until I was told to “never do that gesture in public ever again!”. When I realised what I had done that provided plenty of laughs for all three of us and became a recurring joke throughout the rest of the flight and holiday!

The rest of the 1 hour 45 minute flight was uneventful. We chatted, listened to music, read some books and before we knew it we were descending into a Prague sunset. As always I try to film the landings of new airports. Both so I can look back on them and upload them to Youtube so my fellow Avgeeks can view them. Of course they both find that hilarious and took the absolute piss out of me for the entire video down, although I did nail our landing time! I’m not even mad because it was fucking funny :P. I can probably never upload that video to Youtube ha-ha! Good job I love them both!

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Sunset Arrivals

From landing to going through passport control to waiting for the bags took less than 15 minutes! Probably the quickest entry to any country! We were all starving and it would be at least a 45 minute bus then metro ride to the apartment. So we decided to have our first Czech meal which was the very traditional dish of…McDonalds!

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Tasted so good and much cheaper than in the UK

For 300 Czech Koruna you can get a 72 hour pass on all transport and we just made it in time for the 119 bus. By this point it was pitch black outside and after the short bus ride it was onto Prague’s Merseyrail. Which were clean, on-time and their stations are really cool! They really reminded me of a Darlek!

Entering the city of Prague I didn’t realise how central our apartment really was, right in the centre of Wenceslas Square. I’m so grateful for my free European data as I used Google Maps to navigate the streets to our apartment. Instantly I knew I’d like this place. The vibe was really cool and there was a concert going on in the centre of the square. Even though it was just after 10pm it felt entirely different to the feeling of being in Liverpool at 10pm I can tell you that! We found our apartment which was tucked away inside a courtyard off the main street and we punched in our access code, climbed what would become a brutal four flights of stairs each day into B402. Our home for the next four nights. It was small but sufficient and for what was basically £25 a night there was certainly no complaints from us!

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Looking forward to spending the next few days with these guys

After a quick unpack we headed out to find some water and snacks. We came across a 24 hour shop which we didn’t realise how much we got ripped off until we went back to the apartment! More on that tomorrow!

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Entering our apartment for the first time!

We played some cards and ate weird tasting paprika crisps to unwind and Katie taught us a new card game which was affectionately called Shithead. After a few games of that and many laughs it was already into the early hours of the morning and bed was beckoning. However sleep never really arrived…

 

Canada Trip Blog 1: The long trip west

Well what a trip, that’s all I can say. In fact no, what an adventure more like! The trip to Canada was one of the best trips I have ever been on and through a series of blogs I’ll try to outline why. I’ll be interlacing my thoughts with snippets of my diary as I went along. I’ll have a few blogs such as the travelling aspect (upgrade on the way back!), two for Toronto and two for Edmonton and probably a concluding one. Expect plenty of ramblings and pictures. I really hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed living it!

Pre-trip thoughts

This trip had come just at the right time for me. I needed this holiday, not just for a break but to regain some form of sanity. Working in academia is amazing and rewarding but blimey, it is mentally and emotionally draining. Add to the fact I haven’t been on a proper holiday since the Valencian grand prix in 2012 (research trips aside as they’re very much not holidays!) I was so looking forward to going away. Especially with the uncertainty around my contract and then with a PhD interview the week after the holiday looming which I really wanted to get, it was nice to go away, forget about everything and recharge. I have no doubt in my mind that I nailed the PhD interview only because I was in a nice calm and relaxed head space post trip.

Before I left I wouldn’t say I was nervous about what lay in stall but I was a little apprehensive by a few things. Those of you who know me well and follow my life through these blogs or social media, know random crap is never far away. I firmly believe I’m on some sort of TV show in a parallel universe although I can’t quite put my finger on if its a comedy show, a drama or a soap opera… So I was apprehensive in the sense that this trip would either be absolutely amazing and a classic episode in my life, or could turn into one where everything could go wrong. I mean I have form in that department, getting a puncture on the bike and having to walk 12 miles back into Valencia in 42 degree heatwave is just one of many moments abroad where shit happens. Above all of that though I was excited, not least for the eight flights ahead of me, two of which were on the 787 (avgeek squeal!). I was very excited and couldn’t wait to see family and keep the anglo-canadian/Irish links as strong as ever and above all it was Canada. A country I’ve loved since I first went as a child.

I leave with one question in my mind that I haven’t told anyone about, due to the uncertainties around my job and that was “Could I live there? Could I actually move here and start a life here” by the end of this holiday, that question would be firmly answered. I’ll know in my heart and my head if its meant to be. I’m at that age now where these decisions will be clear. So it’s now the night before I leave to travel thousands of miles across the ocean and what an adventure I hope I have in stall for me. The plans for the next few weeks are to fly to Ireland, then to Heathrow, then to Toronto, then to Edmonton, then to Calgary, then to Heathrow, then to Dublin and then finally back home. With a bag that was full to the brim, it’s time I get some sleep and its a time to leave.

The long trip west

I’ve grown quite fond of travelling on my own, there is a simple serenity in doing things the way you want to do them. There is a relaxed pace about it all which suits me down to the ground and above all I get the freedom to explore without having to please other people. Travelling around the UK or Ireland on your own is one thing. Travelling halfway across the world is a bigger kettle of fish. As much as I am an avgeek, travelling by plane is still stressful, at least the parts before you get on the aircraft. The hustle and bustle of the airport is exciting but can be a little daunting, especially when you have connecting flights in different countries to catch. I never really relax until I’m through security, there is just something that makes you think you have something on you even though you know you don’t, as you’ve patted yourself down so many times its boarding on weird. Yet never as weird as the guy who gives you the eye going through the detectors, you just know if that alarm goes off he’s going to love putting his hands everywhere. Seriously, I hope some of these people are vetted. I’ve been through airports before where it hasn’t even gone off but still got a free grope.

I have a long trip ahead of me that’s for sure and sitting in the living room of my house just before I’m about to leave and I know it’s going to be a long one and time is dragging. The first leg of my journey to Canada was to fly to Dublin first. Seems a roundabout way of doing things right? But starting and ending my Canada flight in Dublin saved me a massive £1000 believe it or not than flying out of the UK. I never know why Ireland is much cheaper, especially when you have to fly back to the UK to fly out to Canada but hey £1000 is a £1000. So with a return fare of £60 on Aer Lingus from Liverpool to Dublin I saved what was essentially my holiday spends.

I’ve checked my bags so many times that I probably could name every item and in what order it was in my suitcase! If this was supermarket sweep i’d make Dale Winton proud. The drive to the airport was fairly quiet and I was getting a twinge of excitement. I’d planned this trip for months and all of a sudden it was finally here. I hadn’t quite believed it yet and I wasn’t out of work mode yet either. The clouds around signalled some rain but of course its UK spring, whatever else!

Typical Liverpool airport fashion the airport was dead, it was a carbon copy of my flight out in November (outlined here: Day one of my Ireland Trip). As mentioned in that blog, I don’t get excited anymore flying to Ireland, it’s like getting on a train for me. After my parents said goodbye to me for a few weeks I trundled through the delights of security and then sat in Burger king with no-one but the cleaner looking out at a near empty and a now very wet apron. I don’t mind waiting for flights, I’m happy to get there super early, especially if I can do a bit of spotting but the only spotting I was doing was the raindrops on the windows. Liverpool is a great regional airport but when it’s quiet, it’s quiet.

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Lunch with a view

With a distinct lack of aircraft arriving or departing I decided to head downstairs to a little café’ I found last time I flew out of Liverpool, tucked away in the departure lounge. The peppermint tea was still as good as ever, as were the hot blonde chicks behind the counter. Easy job they have too, over the course of the hour I sat playing on my phone checking my flight had departed from Dublin and texting, they served a grand total of six people! Six people an hour. What a job. When you’re waiting for a flight, especially one which leads onto an adventure I was about to have, time stands still. With every gulp of warm tea it felt like minutes. When the gate finally appeared and we made our way to the queue I could hear the rain hammering down on the roof. Not great for flying in that’s for sure. I opened my aviation apps, looked at the METAR’s (Airport weather system) and it was red across the board. Strong wings, turbulent clouds and very heavy rain. There was no chance I’d be seeing anything flying today and I was glad I opted for a small lunch. At Liverpool you have to walk to the plane, no air bridges here. You could barely see the aircraft due to the weather. I haven’t seen rain that bad for a long time, people were running to the plane steps like I run for the last cake in a shop. What’s the point I asked myself? You’re going to be drenched either way, you would have been drier in a shower.

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Flight over to Dublin

 

Once on board and dripping wet, I noticed that once again this Thursday afternoon flight was completely dead. I head almost the entire rear of the plane to myself! Something I should have appreciated more, especially as every flight from then on, on that trip was always a full flight.

I’ve seen Eurofighter typhoons have a longer take off run that we had coming out of Liverpool. After a few bumps, a quick nap, 30 minutes later we were wheels down in my second home of Dublin. The original plan had been to pop into Ashbourne to stay with my grandparents and see them before I went off to Canada the next day. However with a change of flight time it would have meant getting a bus at 4 a.m. to get to the airport. With a long ass day ahead of travelling I opted to go to an airport hotel instead, the Radisson Blu. Great hotel, with great views of the approach into Dublin airport which I enjoyed while tucking in a really delicious burger which surprisingly was well priced for room service. After a bath and a few phone calls, I settled down for the night.

DAY TWO: Toronto via Dublin and Heathrow

Maybe it was the excitement of the trip ahead but at 4 a.m. I was wide awake and raring to go. After a quick shower I was in the lobby of the hotel waiting for the complementary shuttle service. I was amazed at how busy the lobby was at this unholy hour of the morning but then again, early morning is one of the busiest times of day for any airport so I should have realised that. However, everyone was very friendly, Italians, American’s, Spanish, it was a real mix of passengers in our little minibus to the airport. Early morning in airports have a really exciting atmosphere about them and its something I love. Outside is still dark, the world hasn’t really woken up yet but inside the terminal is a hive of activity. I love the excited chatter, the noise of the cases being hauled along and the smell of freshly brewed coffee filling the air. It really gets you in the mood for travelling. Especially as the way Terminal 2 in Dublin is designed is so bright and spacious that it’s a very smooth and stress free experience.

Queuing up to check in only took me five minutes and once at the counter the check-in clerk informs me…

“ I’m moving you onto the early flight of 6.20 am to Heathrow as they’re expecting severe delays in both Ireland and  London later due to weather and capacity issues. I’d rather you had longer to wait in Heathrow, than sit here worrying that you might miss your flight”.

He was very helpful and a great gesture as if I didn’t get moved I would have missed my flight! Lucky break number one on this trip already, good job that I was checking in so early. This now meant I didn’t have a great deal of time to get through a very busy security screening and by great deal I mean squeaky bum time deal. The stress o’meter was beginning to climb. The good thing about Dublin T2 is they’re very efficient and within a quarter of an hour I was through security but didn’t have any time to grab any breakfast. I only just had enough time to ping a text to my dad that I was on an earlier flight if he was up to track it. Of course I had enough time to take a picture of the plane though.

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Morning departure to London Heathrow with Aer Lingus A320.

After that it was straight to the gate to board Aer Lingus to LHR. The flight was a stark contrast to the one the previous day. There wasn’t a spare seat available and sadly I was put in the middle seat at check-in. Never fun, especially as the dick with the window seat was asleep the whole time, such a waste! Announcements were made for people to check in their carry-on luggage because the flight was so full but as I was connecting I didn’t have to worry about that.

I settled into my seat and claimed my elbow rests and got ready for the second flight of the trip, the first one of today.

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen this is your captain speaking….We’ve got a delay with our slot time. There are delays in Heathrow and that means we have to wait for a new slot here at Dublin. We’ll be pushing back in around half an hour”.

Knowing I now had a three hour lay-over to play with I wasn’t in the least bit annoyed by that delay. The only thing that annoyed me was the fact I left my headphones in the overhead locker with my bag. There is only so many times you can read the safety card. After half an hour we finally pushed back and I counted 9 aircraft ahead of us waiting to take off. So it took another 15 minutes to eventually get off the ground at Dublin. Solid cloud all the way until on the approach to Heathrow. I so wish I was right next to the window as London and all of the landmarks were perfectly in view! Yes, he was still asleep until we pulled into the gate.

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Plane spotting at Heathrow

 

Luckily I was transferring in the same Terminal, terminal 2. This meant that from plane to departure gates including security was less than 15 minutes! Very handy and stress free. Terminal 2 has recently been renovated to the similar specs of Terminal 5 which I’ve flown out of a few times and love how much natural light comes in with great views of the runways. Duty free was bought, new sunglasses, whiskey and finally some breakfast!

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Terminal two at Heathrow, waiting for my flight.

 

Finally got to do some spotting which is great at Heathrow and before long I was waiting at the gate for the 7 hour flight to Toronto. I was flying premium economy so got to board first which really is a god send. Not to mention the huge seats and excellent food (I’ll do a full review blog of my flights soon, so I won’t bore you with the details!). The Boeing 787 is a fantastic aircraft, bigger windows, very quiet and all round great experience. After listening to music, stopping for meals and watching a film and taking pictures before I knew it I arrived in Toronto. The holiday finally was about to start and oh boy did it start!

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Waiting to take off into the storm at LHR

 

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Over Northern Canada

 

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Great food on the plane.. Vegetable Lasagne was delicious.

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Most scenic wee ever!

 

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Lunch with a view

(Blog two to come soon, including a police escort through the airport, a private tour of an Emirates A380 and my first full day in Toronto. Exciting day!)

 

Ireland Trip Part 2:Change of views, family and coastal walks

After a good night’s sleep in a bedroom that has barely changed in all the time I’ve been coming here, I felt refreshed and ready for the day ahead. Nan’s full Irish breakfast is always a good way to start the day. My Grandad often says I should come over more often as it’s the only time Nan will make his breakfast for him! There is something about Irish White pudding that just goes so incredibly well with bacon in a sandwich. Delicious!

However today was not about me revelling in the delights of Irish cooking (to which there are many delights I assure you!) today was about spending some quality time with my grandparents. Let’s not pull any punches here, they’re getting old. They’re into their 80’s now, not long had some major back surgery and the recovery hasn’t been as quick as they’d hoped. They’re both in pain and it’s showing and one of the reasons I make the effort to come over a couple of times a year is because I know I have much less visits left on the cards than I used to have. I want to make the most of my time with them while I can. Many people are very fortunate to pop down to their grandparents every week. I never got that luxury. Not when they live in another country. So your relationship consists of phone calls and then short visits. So I’m always mindful to maximise my time with them, share my life with them as much as they share theirs with me. I love all of their stories, they’ve visited over 40 countries, they’ve seen the world, and they offer great support and advice.

Even though I’ve heard some of the stories a billion times I still sit and listen as something new always comes up, another layer to the story that wasn’t there before. I’m still fascinated by my grandad’s stories of the war. Despite thinking that watching Spitfires dogfighting over Liverpool with German Me109’s with stray bullets flying around you while you watch is awesome in your head. They very much come across as quite terrifying and his stories of his service for the army in Jungle warfare are as exciting, scary and detailed as the best action thriller. The Gurkhas he is forever in debt for, for their protection in the jungle.

So today, with them both not as active as they once were due to their backs, it was nice to be invited along to the “men’s shed” with my grandad. It’s a new initiative in the village, where retired men can get together to build things, have a place to chat and meet up. I think it’s a wonderful idea and to come along to such a place was very rewarding. The amount of knowledge and expertise in the room is amazing and despite all being later on in life, in their eyes they’re teenagers. I found it very funny too, as typical Irish some of the things they would come out with deserves a blog in its own right! It did feel like I was in an episode of Father Ted! Yes I was every five minutes asked would I like more tea…

One thing I took away from that visit to the men’s shed was a young man called Aaron. He was only a few years older than me, at a push, has learning difficulties, not much family around, some say he was in an accident as a child, others say he was born with it. The men’s shed invited him in as one of their own, to be a friend to him and give him a place to fit in. The men’s shed were given the task this winter of building the crib for the local church and on the day that I visited they were planning how to make it and what it would look like. Aaron was instantly, and I could see it in his face, pride beaming away, instantly took me through all of their plans. He took me on a tour of the facilities, took me on a tour around the Church, explaining in very accurate details how he pictured this crib would play out from his ideas in his head, to how they would look in real life. There was a real pride from him in the way he spoke about the project and the men’s shed. Almost akin to an artist pitching his ideas to prospective buyers. To me, when I arrived it was just a meeting place for older dudes to hang out and to build a crib for the church for Christmas. Nothing mind-blowing, at least not to me. Yet, this project and place was this guys home, he felt for once like he has responsibility, for once people here treated him as an equal. He has learning difficulties but it doesn’t make him any less of a human than anyone else. Why people think that is beyond me. He told me with such pride how he had finally been given a job “washing the big pans” in a local takeaway. His smile was a wide as the river Liffy. For me because I’m a dick wouldn’t even bother myself to do that, at a push I certainly wouldn’t be smiling about it. For him it was as if he had won the lottery.

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Me and Aaron. Very proud of the Men’s shed.

It amazed me, it humbled me and I went away that night lying awake in bed and had to re-evaluate my outlook on things. To not take things for granted and to be grateful for the little things. His passion he showed I can only describe as a child before Christmas or me when I talk about my research or cycling. That’s almost frowned upon in everyday life now. It’s a real shame, I think we can all go back to being enthused by the little things. With a very firm handshake and thank you from him to me for showing me around (despite me repeatedly telling him it is me who is thanking him for the tour! Again that struck a cord with me. He was so thankful for someone listening to him to give him the time of day. That to him should be the norm, not a rare gift) I left with my grandad after a few more hours with the guys there having spent a lovely day with my grandad and his friends. I may have left one mark on the project and that was my suggestion of using modelling artificial grass for the roof of the crib. Something they hadn’t thought of, so it is nice to know a little piece of Tony Cliffe’s idea is a part of the Men’s Shed 2015 Ashbourne church Christmas crib!

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The cribs outline and instructions

 

I was very touched by the day’s events and some very enlightening conversations and stories with my grandparents and before long it was 11pm and it was time for bed.

The next day I woke up with both my grandparents still asleep. The snores from both of them rattling through the wall of my bedroom as if a jackhammer was digging up the road outside. I elected to skip a shower that morning. A, as I didn’t want to wake them and B. climbing up a very large hill I was going to get pretty smelly anyway!

After Jam on toast I waiting for my Aunt Susan and Uncle Dave to come pick me up. I was really looking forward to today for a few reasons. Howth head, is a stunningly beautiful place in Ireland and the pictures throughout this blog will show that. I’m a Geographer, I love nature and the outdoors and walking in those environments is very recharging for the soul. Especially after a very stressful and busy few months in work it’s nice to cut yourself off from the busy world of deadlines and emails and just drink in nature’s beauty. More than that, I was really looking forward to spending a quality day with my Aunt and Uncle. Something I don’t think I’ve ever had a day on my own with them, I’m either with family or over with my dad, so to just spend a day with the two of them was really really nice!

 

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Stunning Howth head © Anthony Cliffe

 

Susan and Dave have the best sense of humour, extremely down to earth and are two people who work incredibly hard and have their heads screwed on. So despite the amazing scenery, it was really nice to spend a day getting closer to them both and laughing an awful lot! To have two locals as a tour guide on this walk was invaluable and I just about kept up with the pair!  Howth head is a stunning place and a brilliant walk if you ever get the chance. From sweeping Cliffs that drop into a deep emerald waters of the Irish Sea, to dense and colourful forests that suddenly give way to shimmering marbled outcrops that overlook the city of Dublin and the bay, to the popping greens of the fields. It’s amazing! A Geographer and a photographers dream.

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Amazing scenery © Anthony Cliffe

 

Even the typical Irish weather couldn’t dampen the spirits and made it feel even more like an adventure and blimey it was some walk! Close to 10 miles we walked and up some bloody steep climbs and some scary cliff walks! I loved it. I’ve been going to Ireland for many many years and I have to say that day was right up there with the best.

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©Anthony Cliffe

 

 

Just when I think the day couldn’t get any more awesome they took me to the quirkiest pub I have ever been to for tea and soup after the walk. It’s almost impossible to describe it. In fact I can’t! It’s called the Dog House and well you could be a traveller anywhere in the world when you were in there. Such a cool place!

I finished the day off with my nans famous Steak and Guinness pie. What more can you ask for!?

My final full day was spent driving through horrendous weather to head up to the boarder of Northern Ireland to see my great Aunt Essie. I always muse to myself at all of the glacial features there, so many drumlins! It’s only then that i realise how much being a Geography academic turns you into a nerd but ah well, I digress! She’s my Dad’s favourite Aunt and he would spend all of his summers on the farm with them all. In fact the Grays have been on that plot of land for hundreds of years. I love going “up country” because it really is like going back in time. SO remote and I mean remote! It was only a few years ago they stopped washing in the well because well (pardon the pun) modern civilisation just didn’t reach this part of the world. It still amazes me how basic it is there in a developed country. Crazy. It was the first time back since my great Uncle Tommy died. I wrote a blog about him when he did pass and it still felt like his presence was in the house, I certainly couldn’t sit in his chair where he always would sit.  As we backed out of the driveway after a few hours with her, I could picture in my mind Tommy backing us out, with that full head of hair and rosy cheeks, puffing away on his pipe or cigarette and waving like he always has done. My dad has recently come back from Ireland and it was nice to know he thought the same as he was backing out of the driveway too. The biggest thing about those who live there is they haven’t been corrupted by the modern world or celeb culture. They’re just real down to earth genuine people who cook THE BEST food around. Seriously if you want home, traditional cooking, where everything you eat has been grown within sight. That is the place to go. Still makes me laugh of the story when they said to my dad, “Fancy some chicken tonight?”
“Yeah sure”
“Okay, pick one”…You can’t get much fresher than that! Despite on that trip eating my own body weight in potatoes at every meal, Irish spuds are the best.

How long they have left there I don’t know? What will happen to the site that my family have been on for hundreds of years now there is no one really to take it on and up keep it? I don’t know and it’s a worry. The house that has been there for centuries is falling down, the forest was sold off, and farming in rural Ireland doesn’t support those who worked it for years anymore. I’m a proud family man and to see such heritage be lost is quite sobering. In the future i want to hopefully take a partner and our kids there one day and say, “Look part of your family grew up here, your granddad spent his summers here and so did I”. I want them to be apart of that and not look at a new estate or a pile of rubble. I genuinely fear i’ll never get to share that. Sadly modern day life has arrived and it has hit hard. Each time I come here I notice new builds of the rich city folk who’ve built mansions and large second homes on the surrounding land. Sure, the roads are still full of cattle and tractors who think they’re on a race track but there are more and more cars, more and higher end cars at that, appearing. It’s a real shame. That one place that was untouched by modern life is sadly dying away with each passing of those who live there.

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View from her garden © Anthony Cliffe

 

Despite that being quite a sobering thought it is one of positive, at least for me this trip was. It was a trip were I could switch off and spend some quality time with family. To reconnect with the simplistic beauty of nature and to remember a life outside of social media and my smartphone. Strengthening bonds between family members is important and above all cherishing those moments you have with them. Although I hope they all have many years left in them and I’m sure they will have, you do have that horrible thought in your head that as you step on the plane and you whisper goodbye to Ireland for a few months as you climb into the clouds back home. Is that the last time you’ll see them? Despite how sad that is, it makes those memories and the moments even more special and I hope I have many many more memories and moments to share with them. Especially my grandparents who have supported me through everything and without them I certainly wouldn’t be in the position I am in today.

I’m back over in a couple of months where I’ll start a brilliant solo adventure to Canada. To see family in Toronto and then to travel right across the country to see Robbie my cousin, one of my best friends growing up and when he moved out to Canada from Ireland a few years ago I’ve been dying to go see him, Nicky, Luke and now baby Oliver. Yes I am so jealous he lives there! I’ll get over there one time but for now a week and a bit will have to do!

So remember always cherish time with family and go visit Ireland! You won’t regret it! Please click on the thumbnails below for full size images of some of the shots I took on this trip! Please comment too if you want to 🙂

Until next time.

Toe